Skip to content

Business Leaders Canoe Through the Rapids Like Healers

6 minute read

By Thom Dennis, CEO of culture change and leadership specialists, Serenity in Leadership 

The past three years have witnessed a series of unexpected crises in health, society, politics, and the economy, underscoring the importance for leaders and their teams to allocate time for regrouping, healing, and rejuvenation. 

The WHO stated that the Covid-19 pandemic was responsible for a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression on a global scale. With 1 in 14 UK adults reportedly feeling stressed daily, it is no surprise that two-thirds of full-time employees say they have experienced burnout at some point in their careers, with burnout rates reportedly higher in female leadership positions. This burden on the workforce means approximately 13.7 million working days are being lost every year in the UK as a result of work-related stress, costing approximately £28.3 billion annually. Clearly how we handle change and difficult circumstances as leaders is vital to an organisation’s survival. A Trvst survey conducted in 2019 revealed that 81% of respondents considered the ability to navigate through complex and uncertain situations as a key attribute of successful leaders.

Those who thrive in times of crisis exhibit leadership akin to that of a white water canoeist.

I had the privilege of rafting down the Colorado River, accompanied by a group of canoeists. Prior to facing each formidable rapid, we would pause and carefully examine the surroundings, devising a course of action. This practice was essential for everyone, regardless of their prior experience on the river, as each journey presented unique challenges influenced by the water's force. It dawned on me that once we entered the rapid, our options were limited, and our success depended on agility, drawing from our expertise and intuition, cooperating with the current rather than resisting it, and making minor adjustments along the way to stay on a secure path. This analogy strongly resonates with businesses navigating difficult times. Rather than adopting a pretend-heroic approach and attempting to go against the current or even dictating it, survival lies in the ability to adapt, acknowledge the need for repairs if the canoe is damaged, and invest sufficient time in thorough restoration instead of relying on superficial fixes. 


It is crucial to gain a clear understanding of the priorities at hand.

Prioritise addressing the challenging aspects first. Take a close look at the unresolved matters that require immediate attention. Evaluate the contents of your "too difficult" tray and begin tackling them. Gain insight into your team members and their circumstances. Seek valuable wisdom by regularly engaging in face-to-face interactions with colleagues, taking the time to walk around the office and having conversations several times a week. Pay close attention to the dynamics within your team and encourage face-to-face interactions, fostering relationships and a sense of belonging.

Fear and control are what make the difference between good leadership and the abuse of power. 

To mend and revive a business, it is crucial to foster a sense of unity among those operating within a shared environment. Far too often, businesses attempt to address issues in isolation, adopting a silo approach that ultimately leads to unfavourable outcomes. This approach only fuels personal agendas, exacerbates larger problems, and contributes to the fragmentation of the business. The exercise of power often becomes entangled with ego, fear, authority, and control. However, effective leadership actually entails selfless giving, serving as a role model, guiding individuals, and empowering them to achieve personal growth while working toward a common goal. 

Be honest and eliminate toxicity.

Embracing transparency and tackling challenging issues head-on is the most beneficial decision for the long-term prosperity of the business. Transform any sense of a stagnant culture. Boldly address issues in the present moment and take proactive measures to stop toxic behaviour in its tracks. Engage in conversations about the uncomfortable truths before issues sap the business of energy. Prioritise restoring unity and a sense of community and bridging any fragmented or marginalised areas of the workplace. Individuals experiencing toxic behaviour from others and imposter syndrome require support. It is impossible to maintain a state of creativity, productivity, and thriving when you are feeling terrible. 

Initiate deep listening.

When someone is speaking to you, pause your activities, refrain from checking emails, and give them your undivided attention. Often, in times of trouble, individuals don't necessarily seek solutions; they simply want to be heard so they can express their thoughts and emotions and be supported to delve into their own resources and determine their own course of action which is an empowering approach.

Be clear about purpose and DE&I.

Know your personal purpose as well as the organisation and be focused on how this affects behaviour, impact, and strategy. Purpose should be prioritised as much as profit and success, especially for the younger generations. Equally, address all diversity, inclusion, and equality issues. If combined with cultural intelligence, the more diverse the workplace the better it is for the business and its people. There is rarely only one right answer and so openness to other possible answers is a great strength. 

Rebalance your emotional and physical selves. 

To effectively serve their teams, leaders must prioritise self-care and treat themselves with kindness and respect. Healer leaders recognise the value of embracing feminine qualities that involve emotional expression while rejecting the unhealthy aspects of masculinity that suppress or express dysfunctional emotions. They encourage the open sharing of emotions, both in themselves and among their team members.

Serenity In Leadership is co-hosting an executive leadership retreat in Guatemala in late September 2023 aimed at enabling leaders to understand themselves and what drives them much better, developing leadership skills and authenticity through an experiential deep dive. 

Keep up to date with the latest events, resources and articles.

Sign-up for the Engage Employee Newsletter